Thumbs-up: Hand surgery restores Inia’s ability to work

Inia, 33, shows off his newly-repaired hand. Interplast volunteer plastic surgeon Dr David Ying repaired the tendon that controls the thumb.

After a farming accident damaged his hand in early 2017, Inia was unable to work. The 33-year-old, who lives near the town of Labasa on Fiji’s northern island of Vanua Levu, had severed all the tendons that control the fingers and thumb on his right hand.

The tendons to his fingers were repaired by a local surgeon, but the surgeon was unable to fix the thumb tendon.

Without control of his thumb, maintaining his work as a carpenter was virtually impossible; he couldn’t even hold nails for hammering into wood. As a result, Inia and his wife, a nurse, were relying on her income. With hopes to have children soon, being able to work and provide is very important.

“I was asking ‘how can I get my thumb back’,” said Inia. “I am glad that my wife is working, but I am wishing my thumb is better so I can get back into my work.”

In March 2017 an Interplast volunteer surgical team visited Labasa. Plastic surgeon Dr David Ying operated on Inia, taking a spare tendon from his forearm and using it to repair the tendon to Inia’s thumb.

“Given that it was months after the initial injury, we had to use a tendon graft, because the primary tendon itself couldn’t be used, and the surrounding tendons couldn’t be redirected for use,” said Dr Ying. “So the only way to restore this particular tendon was to take a graft from somewhere else in his forearm.”

The following day in recovery, Inia was ecstatic. Even though his right forearm and hand were locked solidly in a cast, he could already wiggle the tip of his thumb, and he spoke of hopes to be back at work soon.

“I am proud to have my big thumb back,” said Inia. “From last night, I can feel the movement. When I woke up, I was happy to see that my thumb is moving again. Before, I can’t move it. I’m so pleased to have my thumb back again.”

 

Interplast volunteer plastic surgeon Dr David Ying instructs Inia on the kinds of movements and exercises that will aid in recovery from surgery.

Dr Ying said the surgery went well, and he was confident that it would withstand the ways that Inia would likely use it in his life and work. However, he said that Inia would still face challenges in recovery without the kind of post-operative support that patients receive in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, such as hand therapists.

Fiji only has one qualified plastic surgeon, and Dr Ying said the presence of the Interplast team could make all the difference for people such as Inia.

“It’s not the sort of case that would be attempted here very often,” said Dr Ying. “That man may not have had any intervention here unless it was from a visiting team.

“For him, it could mean the difference between earning a living and not earning a living, which would have a big impact on his family.”

Now, thanks to the Interplast team, Inia is looking forward to learning to use his hand again and planning for the future.

“I’d just like to say thank you very much for coming here and giving their time,” said Inia. “It’s a very big thank-you to everyone, and especially to your team.”

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